Slightly more ethical dog food
October 9, 2018 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm a pescetarian for ethical and environmental reasons but I have pets and they are not. What is the most ethical meat product produced for the pet food market in terms of avoiding factory farming conditions and impact on climate and ground water?

I was using a fish based food but I'm concerned about over fishing. (Where does fish for the dog food market come from anyway?) My instinct is that lamb is unlikely to be factory farmed and is not as impactful on the environment as say, beef? How about duck? I guess ducks could easily be factory farmed, but again probably not as big a contributor to greenhouse gasses as large mammals?

I'm happy to just read some articles on this if you know of any links.

(Yes, stupid first world problem I guess, but one small thing I can do to reduce my impact while we work for large scale change.)
posted by latkes to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Lamb has far more of an environmental impact than beef. Poultry will, in general, be lower-impact.
posted by kickingtheground at 12:24 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's kind of a tough call. Even though the animal matter used in pet food is almost always the product of unethical factory farming, it's also almost always by-products: it's the bits and pieces that humans either don't like to eat or that don't meet standards for human consumption (think old milking cows for example) but are fine for pet food. Those unethically-produced animals would still be produced even if their lips and buttholes didn't end up in dog chow. Fish is a slightly different thing as there are entire fisheries that are mostly harvested for non-human consumption (fertilizer and livestock/pet food) and therefore could be OK or not depending on the species.

The most ethical dog food where I am is from butchers that handle game: I know folks who pick up deer (etc) bones and scraps for free or practically free in the fall, freeze them, and feed their dogs from that. That won't work everywhere, of course; not everybody has a chest freezer or lives in a place where everyone hunts. But it's one way to go.
posted by Rust Moranis at 12:32 PM on October 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Open Farm is a commercial pet food company that make a point of sourcing meat from more ethical sources.
posted by mosst at 12:41 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Unlike cats, dogs are not obligate carnivores. If you want to reduce your dog's environmental impact, the best way to do this is to avoid meat altogether. Many people put their dogs on vegan diets - and the dogs do well. Here's an article from Tufts on this (i.e., I specifically looked for something that's not from a pro-vegan organization, but those groups probably have more information on their websites).

The article also points out that some commercial foods for dogs can include eggs or dairy, but not meat. While it is best from an environmental perspective to avoid all animal products, eggs and dairy are better in that regard than meat (though not better in terms of avoiding cruelty/factory farming).
posted by FencingGal at 1:05 PM on October 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

The only verifiable answer to this is to feed raw, using smallholding organic fed free range grass pastured beef, pork and poultry. I'm not trying to be a dick here; this is 100% something you could buy a freezer and do, buying direct from local farmers.

Alternatively, you can buy end-of-date marked down meat from the "we're about to throw this out" section of your supermarket. Regardless of the path it took from birth to the supermarket shelf, consumption will be vastly more ethical in terms of consumption than the supermarket throwing it out. We get everything from fish to lamb shanks for our pets this way.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:08 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The only verifiable answer to this is to feed raw, using smallholding organic fed free range grass pastured beef, pork and poultry.
Just to be clear, while this may have other advantages, this is not low impact from the point of view of greenhouse gases.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:20 PM on October 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Just to be clear, if you are talking about cats please be VERY careful if you feed them raw diets or meat for human consumption. Felines require all sorts of minerals and supplements, such that if you just fed your cat chicken or beef scrapes it would eventually get sick, and possibly die. I know taurine is important, but I seem to remember guidelines regarding ratios of organ meats to flesh, etc., back when I used to do this.

Check with your vet!

Your vet’s office might have recommendations or guidelines in general + specifics related to your pet’s current health. For example if your pet is at risk for kidney issues, there are some things you should not feed your pet.

Ask your vet to get more specific advice.
posted by jbenben at 1:48 PM on October 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

Seconding Open Farm pet food, if you aren't going the route of making pet food on your own. Also seconding the Taurine concerns if you're feeding cats (and other potential issues too.) Personally, I supplement with homemade food, but there are issues. Also note: you can give your cat Toxoplasmosis through raw food, in case that's a concern.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:03 PM on October 9, 2018

I feel your dilemma -- I'm eagerly awaiting insect-based pet food, since those crunchy lads are leaps and bounds more sustainable than other animal protein sources. Looks like Europe can already buy it.

Stateside, we have dog treats.
posted by Drosera at 3:46 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

FWIW, grass-finished, rotationally-grazed beef and lamb are potentially less carbon-emitting than conventional beef and lamb (if the farmer is diligent and grazing conditions are right). Meanwhile, pasture-raised pork and chicken have a pretty similar carbon footprint to the factory-farmed stuff.

All this to say that if you end up going the local farmer route, don't reject beef and lamb out of hand, especially if you're buying the less marketable cuts that the farmer has a hard time selling anyway.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:05 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks folks. I don't have the bandwidth for homemade food at the moment so the chart in the first answer, and other answers that discuss which proteins in commercial kibble are least impactful are helpful.
posted by latkes at 6:37 AM on October 10, 2018

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